COVID-19

Apple, Google plan to release contact-tracing tool this week

Jack Stewart Apr 28, 2020
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The Australian government's contact tracing app, COVIDSafe. Apple and Google worked together on their own tech-based solution. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
COVID-19

Apple, Google plan to release contact-tracing tool this week

Jack Stewart Apr 28, 2020
The Australian government's contact tracing app, COVIDSafe. Apple and Google worked together on their own tech-based solution. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The term “contact tracing” is being used a lot at the moment. It’s a way to notify us if we’ve been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19. Health authorities say it’s crucial as part of plans to reopen businesses and the economy. 

Technology can help with this. Apple and Google are set to release a smartphone tool this week. Traditional contact tracing involves a human tracker questioning someone who tests positive about who they’ve been near, and then trying to reach those people to warn them to isolate. 

Tina White, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Stanford University, is with the group Covid Watch, which helped develop the underlying technology to allow smartphones to track other phones around them privately — and do contact tracing.

“What this sort of app will do is it will give you an anonymous notification instead that you have been exposed, [and] here are the next steps,” White said.

Apple and Google, traditionally competitors when it comes to their iPhones and Android phones, worked together on the system, which uses Bluetooth signals.

Users will have to download an app from their local public health authority to opt in.

Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum, wants assurances that any data will be deleted once this pandemic is over. 

“We need to hear that this is a temporary system just to deal with the crisis and then it goes away,” Dixon said.

She’s also watching to see if the use of these types of trackers becomes mandatory to enter restaurants or board planes, for example, which she says would raise extra concerns.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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